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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Ben Stokes set to reunite with England teammates in New Zealand

The all-rounder has not featured for his country since incident outside a Bristol nightclub in September which has led to him being charged with affray.

Ben Stokes leaves Bristol Magistrate's Court on Tuesday after pleading not guilty to a charge of affray. Matt Cardy / Getty Images
Ben Stokes leaves Bristol Magistrate's Court on Tuesday after pleading not guilty to a charge of affray. Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Ben Stokes' five month exile from England duty will end on Friday when he rejoins the national side in New Zealand.

Stokes pleaded not guilty to a charge of affray at Bristol Magistrates Court on Tuesday and, after establishing he did not need to appear at the next hearing on March 12, boarded a flight the following day.

Having departed Heathrow and travelled via Abu Dhabi and Melbourne, Stokes is due to land in Auckland on Friday afternoon.

He will then be met by members of the England and Wales Cricket Board's support staff and driven around 70 miles to Hamilton, where the Twenty20 squad are currently based.

His arrival at the team hotel will mark a formal reintroduction to the set-up, having last been involved in the one-day victory over the West Indies on September 24.

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A night out with fellow players after that match culminated in an altercation outside a nightclub, leading to a lengthy police investigation during which he was deemed unavailable for selection.

Stokes went on to miss the entire 4-0 Ashes defeat, the subsequent ODI campaign and the ongoing T20 tri-series.

England will already have trained by the time he touches down, though the gruelling nature of his journey means he would not have been expected to take part on Friday anyway.

The 26-year-old could net with the team on Saturday, but England have made it clear there is no prospect of him featuring at Seddon Park against New Zealand 24 hours later.

If New Zealand defeat Australia in Auckland, England's chances of making the final would be over, making their final triangular match a dead rubber and theoretically providing a tempting occasion to restore Stokes to the field.

But they are in no rush to press him into action before he has proved his match sharpness and may prefer, in those circumstances, to blood the uncapped Sam Curran, who has been part of the touring squad over the past couple of weeks.

Instead, Stokes' focus will be on pushing for selection for the first ODI, also at Hamilton, on February 25.

Speaking earlier in the week, head coach Trevor Bayliss, indicated he would need to see the player up close before making a final decision on his readiness.

"Having a chat around practice you'll probably be able to see whether he's hitting them well in the nets, how it's coming out with his bowling," said the Australian.

"It's about making a judgement call at some stages. In the past he's been out with injuries and come back sooner than we thought. That's the type of character he is and it doesn't take him long at all to get back up to speed.

"He's been indoors doing plenty in the last month or two, so it's not as if he's been doing absolutely nothing - it'll just be a case of getting him on turf wickets and a few outdoor nets.

Asked if there were any concerns about the crowd reaction on his return, Bayliss added: "He'd probably cop some anyway, even if he hadn't been out for the last few months. It's par for the course.

"Most of the crowds wherever you go around the world target an opposition player. It's usually one of the better players, to try and put them off their game and Ben's been through all that before."

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